Army of mental health volunteers search for tornado victims

MOORE, Okla. – The streets of Moore and other communities devastated by the May 19 and 20 tornadoes are filled with residents who have yet to process the mental toll those storms took.

“This lady was saying ‘My husband won’t cry, I need him to cry.’ Well, maybe it’s not time for him to cry,” Jackie Shipp said, with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS).

Shipp wants to hear more of those stories while walking the streets of Moore.

She’s offering the simplest of things, water and food, hoping people will open up and let her offer them psychological first aid.

She said, “They need someone to ground them and say, ‘What are the two things you need to do today? Did you eat today? When’s the last time you had something to drink?’”

It’s an effort by more than 400 mental health professionals and volunteers from across Oklahoma and several states to help as many people as they can.

The ODMHSAS opened an emergency response center at the Cleveland County Health Department (424 S. Eastern Ave) in Moore to coordinate daily searches for anyone who needs mental help.

At the ODMHSAS main office in Oklahoma City, volunteers are learning what to say to victims and what not to ask.

“(Like) ‘How do you feel?’” Instructor Stacy Sayre said to her class. “‘My house was blown away, how do you think I feel?’”

Gwen Downing is one of many state employees wearing a green shirt in Moore.

“It really is about giving hope,” she said.

She said it’s important to let tornado victims know what they’re feeling is normal after a traumatic event and they’re here to help in any way possible.

“Some of the places we went in, they put us at a table, like, ‘this is the mental health team,’” Downing said, “and I’m like ‘no, give us a broom.  Give us a shovel.’”

Sayre said about 30% of tornado victims will need some sort of mental help to deal with the trauma, and roughly a third of those victims will develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

For more information on services available or volunteering, contact the ODMHSAS at

http://www.odmhsas.org.